Massachusetts Case Opens Up Youth Mental Health Conversation

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – The issue of youth suicide is at the forefront nationwide, after a teen’s girlfriend was sentenced to over a year in prison Thursday. The young woman, 20-year-old Michelle Carter, was convicted of pressuring her boyfriend through text messages to take his life three years ago.

The defense claims carter wasn’t in her right mind at the time, saying she was a troubled teen undergoing treatment for depression. The case is prompting discussions on mental health information that one local expert says needs to be out in the open.

“I think sometimes it’s hard for people to come by or the shame aspect of not wanting to go to someone and saying ‘I need help’,” says Jodi Merritt, a mental health specialist at Stronghold Counseling Services.

Merritt has helped teens dealing with everything from, “substance abuse, anxiety, depression, anxiety based on parent divorce or change in life in some way.”

And says that’s not out of the norm. In fact, 30 percent of the practice’s clientele are teens.

“We see some who are a little bit resistant who are ordered by court or probation or school who aren’t excited to be here, and some really look forward to coming in,” says Merritt.

Merritt says many mental health issues affecting teens stem from their peers and what they are viewing online.

“The hard thing to wade through is what is developmentally appropriate or more drastic than the norm,” explains Merritt.

She says if a teen is always seeing his or her classmates’ ‘best selves’ on social media, they may feel inadequate or isolated. And those feelings, without treatment could lead to suicidal thoughts.

“Suicidal ideation, it comes when kids are out of coping skills and they don’t know what else to do and so that’s their out,” says Merritt.

That’s why Merritt says it’s essential for parents to know the signs of mental health problems.

“The main thing is a change in anything,” says Merritt. “If you see a change in behavioral things like friends they’re hanging out with, substance use, more keyed up or on-edge, isolation, change in eating habits, anything like that.”

Other symptoms can be physical. Merritt says teens will get headaches, stomach aches or chest pain. If a parent or friend notices these changes, Merritt suggests contacting a therapist, school counselor or the 211 Helpline Center.

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